Sarah Smith  RVT, PGRS-C

       When I was five years old I had a cat who lived at my grandparents’ house. I had received her as a kitten and considered her my first real pet. One summer she went missing for a few days and when she finally limped home we discovered she had been hit by a car. Bruised, in pain, and close to death, my grandfather had to make a decision. They lived in rural south Georgia and professional vet care was very hard to find. Simple, but necessary, procedures like spaying and neutering or heartworm prevention were done in the bigger cities. My grandfather told me to go inside and put my head under a pillow. He took Candy out behind the barn and shot her. This was my first experience with death and the loss of an animal that I loved. I was heartbroken. The feelings of helplessness and confusion, as well as being so overwhelmed with emotions I didnt know what to do. This is a memory I have never forgotten.

     Growing up, animals have always been very special to me.  It is impossible to put into words the innate bond I feel towards all creatures, but I know that bond is what drove me to to my dream of working in the veterinary field. I went back to school in my 30s and earned my degree to be a Registered Veterinary Technician. My first experience with euthanasia was profound. I realized quickly that the focus on end of life care needed to be a necessary step for families dealing with the impending, and actual, loss of a pet. I started to work with pet parents, helping them navigate through those almost impossible last decisions we all have to make at some point with our pets. Over and over, I noticed that people were uncomfortable with their grief. I saw men struggle to feel and show their emotions. I watched parents make up fanciful stories to their kids about “where the pet went” as they got off the bus from school. And I would hear people say, “I don’t know why I’m so upset. It’s just a pet!” I was really struck because really they aren't JUST pets. They are best friends and children you love and care for. They are companions who are always happy to see you every day and give unconditional love without asking for anything in return.

     As this happened again and again, I decided to go back to school for more training to focus on counseling. I wanted to start a support group to help other pet parents know they are not alone in their grief and that their feelings are real and valid. Every family should have the opportunity to mourn their pet just as they would the loss of a loved one. And so, Not Just a Pet was born. A place for pet parents to come together where they can feel safe and where the bond between pet and human is respected and celebrated. Whether it be a cat, dog, snake, rat, or turtle, it is never just a pet and you are never alone in your grief.